Change Canada’s Statistics Act – 2 bills, 1 motion, 3 court challenges

I had the good fortune yesterday to hear Ivan Fellegi, Canada’s former Chief Statistician, speak at the Statistical Society of Ottawa 8th Annual Seminar yesterday.  He is a gracious intellectual who would like to restore his faith in Canada’s statistical agency.  He was one of the Drafters of the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and would like to see these embedded into Canada’s Statistics Act.  In addition, he stated that the powers given to the Chief Statistician under this change in the act would be great, and should be tempered by the creation of a selection panel of non-partisan experts to select the Chief Statistician.

In relation to this, on October 21, 2010 Brian Masse, NDP MP Windsor West, tabled a bill  entitled – An Act to Amend the Statistics Act (Chief Statistician) which

An Act to Amend the Statistics Act (Chief Statistician), is a forward-thinking proposal that focuses on the selection, autonomy and mandate of Canada’s Chief Statistician. The bill would create an improved process for selecting the Chief Statistician and prohibits political appointments. It would also ensure the Chief Statistician has a clearer mandate for establishing the guidelines for data collection, analysis and processing.

On September 30, 2010 Carolyn Bennett tabled a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons that would amend the Statistics Act and enshrine the long-form census into the act.

On September 24, 2010, the Liberals presented the following motion in the House of Commons.  The Motion was passed in the House by a majority of MPs on September 29, 2010:

That the House calls on the Government of Canada to re-instate immediately the Long-form Census; and given that no person has ever been imprisoned for not completing the census, the House further calls on the government to introduce legislative amendments to the Statistics Act to remove completely the provision of imprisonment from Section 31 of the Act in relation to the Long-form Census, the Census of Population, and the Census of Agriculture.

Add to this 3 court challenges to reinstate the long form census ( I am looking for the complete links to these):

  1. Canadian Council for Social Development: The Right to be Counted (articles 1,2)
  2. Native Council of Nova Scotia, Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council, New Brunswick Aboriginal People’s Council, the Native Council of Prince Edward Island, and some individual chiefs.
  3. Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada (FCFA)

The initial request to change the Act was formally made in a September 9, 2010 letter written to the Prime Minister signed by: Mel Cappe. President, Institute for Research on Public Policy, and former Clerk of the Privy Council, David Dodge. Senior Advisor, Bennett Jones LLP, former Governor of the Bank of Canada, and former Deputy Minister of Finance, Ivan Fellegi. Chief Statistician of Canada (Emeritus) and Alex Himelfarb. Director, Glendon School of Public and International Affairs, and former Clerk of the Privy Council on September 9, 2010 requested that the Act incorporate the UN principles might by adding the following sections:

4 (2.1) The Chief Statistician shall:

(i) within the financial parameters provided by the government determine according to strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data;

(ii) present information according to scientific standards on the sources, methods and procedures of the statistics;

(iii) provide such public information that in his opinion are necessary to facilitate appropriate statistical interpretation of data (…).

In the letter they explain:

Principles two, three and four, in particular, call for the Chief Statistician to be able to maintain public support for, as well as trust and confidence in the methodological basis for Statistics Canada’s products. Those principles would suggest that the Chief Statistician be given the statutory responsibility for methodological competence now implicit in the office. Moreover, it follows that the Chief Statistician have the statutory authority to provide information to the public on methodological matters and issues relating to the reliability of the data.

The UN Principles are as follows:

Principle 1. Official statistics provide an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the Government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation. To this end, official statistics that meet the test of practical utility are to be compiled and made available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honor citizens’ entitlement to public information.

Principle 2. To retain trust in official statistics, the statistical agencies need to decide according to strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, on the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data.

Principle 3. To facilitate a correct interpretation of the data, the statistical agencies are to present information according to scientific standards on the sources, methods and procedures of the statistics.

Principle 4. The statistical agencies are entitled to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics.

Principle 5. Data for statistical purposes may be drawn from all types of sources, be they statistical surveys or administrative records. Statistical agencies are to choose the source with regard to quality, timeliness, costs and the burden on respondents.

Principle 6. Individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation, whether they refer to natural or legal persons, are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes.

Principle 7. The laws, regulations and measures under which the statistical systems operate are to be made public.

Principle 8. Coordination among statistical agencies within countries is essential to achieve consistency and efficiency in the statistical system.

Principle 9. The use by statistical agencies in each country of international concepts, classifications and methods promotes the consistency and efficiency of statistical systems at all official levels.

Principle 10. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation in statistics contributes to the improvement of systems of official statistics in all countries.

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